In the face of a wave of highly negative publicity, Columbia Business School this week postponed a tenure hearing on an assistant professor who has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the university for sexual harassment.
Assistant Professor Enrichetta Ravina, 40, who has taught the core MBA corporate finance course at Columbia, was scheduled to have her tenure review on March 30th, a session at which the school had invited the senior professor she has accused of harassing her and sabotaging her research work.
But the meeting was apparently cancelled after widespread media reports in which Ravina alleged that she has been a victim of gender discrimination, a hostile work environment, quid pro quo sexual harassment, retaliation, failure to promote, and wrongful discharge. Among the many stories on the suit was a New York Post headline that screamed: “I was hounded by a sex-crazed Columbia professor.”
CBS POSTPONES ‘SHAM TENURE REVIEW’
A spokesperson confirmed that the review was postponed. “It is our understanding that Columbia plans to convene the meeting shortly, but the specific date has not been provided to us,” said Ali Harwin, senior litigation counsel for Sanford Heisler Kimpel LLP, the law firm representing Ravina against the university. A spokesperson for Columbia Business School declined comment, stating that “our tenure process is confidential, and Columbia does not distribute information regarding any candidate’s tenure process.”
A promising academic, Ravina joined Columbia in July of 2008 after a three-year stint at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Her research puts her at the cutting edge of using large sets of data to analyze personal investment decisions. But after her complaints of sexual harassment, her complaint alleges, the school forced her on an accelerated tenure review, requiring that she submit a tenure application in one month—when such applications typically take six months to a year to prepare. Ravina claims the session would have been “a sham tenure review” to toss her off the faculty. “There is no meaningful chance that she could be granted tenure at this stage in her scholarship,” accoridng to her lawsuit. “If she is not tenured, she has to leave the university within one year.”
Ravina charges she was consistently harassed by, Geert Bekaert, a 51-year-old tenured finance professor at Columbia Business School, who had once been her mentor. Her lawsuit details vivid examples of Professor Bekaert allegedly talking about how often he watched pornography, applauding the use of prostitutes, and describing his sexual exploits. He is accused of seeking an intimate relationship with his mentee, insisting that she meet with him off-campus, demanding that she compliment him, describing her as “sexy,” indicating that he was “horny,” and subjecting her to unwanted touching.
‘SICKENED THAT A COLLEAGUE WOULD MANUFACTURE FALSE STORIES’
In a highly detailed, 44-page complaint she also accused Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard of turning a deaf ear to her complaints of sexual harassment and academic obstruction. Hubbard, she alleges, mocked her complaints, comparing them to a ‘soap opera,” and blamed the female professor for her mentor’s conduct. The dean, she claims, accused her of flirting with Bekaert and scolded her for working with him. He refused to take any action to curb Professor Bekaert’s behavior, according to Ravina. Columbia University issued a terse statement after the March : “The university treats allegations of harassment with the utmost seriousness but does not comment on pending litigation.”
For his part, Bekaert denies the charges in the lawsuit, filed just before midnight on March 22 in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. “I am sickened that a colleague would manufacture false stories, statements, and events and attempt to destroy my reputation,” he said in an emailed statement to the media. “In reality, this is a sad example of no good deed goes unpunished. We collaborated for years doing research with a unique data set I had obtained from a company I worked for, and in return she fabricated a series of completely false allegations about me – some today for the first time.”
Ravina claims the harassment began as early as September of 2012, some two and one-half years after the two agreed to collaborate on a research project. She says she made clear that she had no interest in anything other than a professional relationship but, Ravina claims, Bekaert continued to make inappropriate comments and seek to have a relationship with her.